'Beirut Poetry'
A CELEBRATION
Anne Fairbairn
Antoine Kazzi, Editor-in-Chief of the Arabic newspaper, El-Telegraph, and a leading poet of the Australian Arabic-speaking community, introduced in Arabic,  Maher Khier, the distinguished Lebanese diplomat and poet, to a large audience, which included many Arab Ambassadors, to the poetry event, 'BEIRUT POETRY - What shall I do with my wings now?' -  held at the Street Theatre in Acton, ACT on February 11th as part of The Canberra Multicultural Festival.
Antoine spoke eloquently about Maher and his poetry. saying: 'With you Maher, we interact with the refined diplomat and the gentle poet.' He described Maher as an 'Oriental knight who excels in uniqueness, a poet who wakes up early with dawn to make a bracelet of the stars.' He described  how the great cities of the world embrace Maher's harmonious lines for he indeed 'weaves the wings of poetry with enormous skill.' He believes Maher is like a quill which cures the wound of an inkwell.
'Maher indeed lifts the cup and drinks the elixir of poetry.'
Antoine recited, in Arabic, his very moving poem,

'DO NOT BURY ME'

The Orient will never be free,
So release me to the free horizon ...
Yesterday, I demanded to be buried
in the soil of my country ...
Today I insist  - Do not bury me there ...

(Lines from Antoine's poem).

Since this was two days before the Australian Parliament was to apologize to the Stolen Generation Maher very thoughtfully invited me to commence by paying respect to the original inhabitants of the region which is now called Canberra - The Ngunnawal people, by reading some lines from my poem 'Star-Dancing Two Fires.'

His fellow tribesmen gather
Rubbing dry sticks together;
Soon two bright fires are blazing
On a place of weathered rocks.

One fire celebrates words
Chanted at corroborees,
To the drone of digeridoos
Ritual carvings on trees and rocks
Revering age-old beliefs
And the craft of weaponry:
Skillfully shaped boomerangs,
Spears and woomeras,
Stones edge-chipped and sharpened
For axe-heads, scrapers or blades

The second fire celebrates
How the Ngunnawal people
Have lived as one with nature,
In timeless harmony
With the heavens, scrublands and the sea,
-The Elders protecting their young,
The young respecting their Elders
Within an eternal Dreaming.


After finishing reading lines from my poem I said that I feel that as well as the Australian Parliament saying 'Sorry' I believe we should be saying 'Thanks' to the Indigenous people of Australia. The early settlers learned so much from these people about this vast island-continent which indeed helped make Australia the prosperous country it is today.

I introduced Maher Kheir to the audience with the following words:

It is indeed a great privilege to be invited to introduce the distinguished Lebanese poet and diplomat, Maher Khier this evening.  It is also a privilege to be invited to read his poems in English.
Over the years I have been deeply enriched by the poetry of the Arab world. I was fortunate to be invited to attend many poetry festivals in the Middle East and also to speak at universities about Australian literature, so I was able to collect  poetry for my anthology of Arabic poetry, 'Feathers and the Horizon.' It soon became clear to me how enormously enriching poetry is to the people of the area as I believe Arabic poetry is becoming to all lovers of poetry world-wide. Poetry certainly transcends racial, religious and political differences and brings people much closer together in understanding. We are indeed fortunate that Maher is now delighting Australia's lovers of poetry with his poems.
Maher has shown me a letter he received from Nizzar Qabbani in 1996, This letter is printed on the cover of one of Maher's volume of poems, 'Naked under the Sun,' I am aware of how hugely respected the work of this Syrian poet is. He wrote in his letter to Maher, how very much pleasure he felt while reading Maher's poems which he described as 'reflecting the spiritual pulsations that come from the your soul … Poetry with your fingers is superb, I am so proud of you.'
Maher began studying and comparing French and Arabic literature in France at the University of Toulouse when he was eighteen years old. He then spent a number of years in Paris where he worked for a period as a journalist. He has also lived and worked in Cairo, Tripoli, Beirut, and now as a diplomat at the Lebanese Embassy in Canberra.
One of his first published poems was 'The Exile,' which he composed in neo-classical style, with strict rhyme and meter. He wrote several poems in Classical style, but he now believes modern free verse is a potent symbol of freedom - 'Like a bird flying freely in the sky,' he says. Freedom is something that is rarely enjoyed these days in his beloved country, Lebanon, where there are now many imposed controls and restrictions. So all his poems are now written in very free style. Maher believes that in the past Beirut was always a symbol of freedom, but that tragically this has changed. But he also believes that the people are working very hard to restore freedom.
Reading his poetry, it soon becomes clear how deeply he feels about Lebanon.  Each poem is like a passionate love poem.  When I first read his poetry I naively thought he had these deep feelings for some person, Then I came to understand that this profound passion is for his country. He indeed has an intense on-going love-affair - with Lebanon. He realizes that every day could possibly bring a new tragedy and this causes him great anxiety. He dedicated one of his first volumes of poetry to his country, which receives through his poems, the full volume of his love.
Two collections of Maher's poems have been published: 'Naked under the Sun' (Dar al-Faraby, Beirut 1998) and 'A Sun for a Blue Shirt' (Dar al-Jill Cairo 2005). A new collection is to be published soon in Cairo.
He has done a great deal of performance poetry, which proved to be extremely successful when he performed with the United Nations at UNESCO and at the Opera House in Cairo.
Maher has also won multiple awards for his poetry and also video-clips. These include, 'Secret Letters from Beirut', and 'The Birds will tear Heaven's Chest.'
Maher won the Oscar for the best poetry in the International Video-clip Festival in 2004. 'The Cry of the Snow' won a special prize In the International Video-clip Festival in 2006.
I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Khaled Asmar, who is also from Lebanon, and who has spent countless hours translating Maher's poems into English -  the three of us have met a number of times to go through the poems, word by word  in the truly challenging task of ''transcreating,' as I prefer to call it,  Maher's very engaging poetry.
When I finished my introduction, Maher Khier read a number of his poems in Arabic and I read English 'trancreations' of each poem. The audience seemed extremely enthusiastic about his poetry.



WHAT SHALL I DO WITH MY WINGS NOW?

Absence …
My shadows which are tougher than
Our wooden door
Slam on doors …

My eyes roam in our space
Like blind bats.
Your forgotten phantoms
Adorn them-selves with the crimson
Of our sofa,
To make me laugh sometimes
Yet they laugh at me.

The walls swell like your chest
As it pulses with your heart.
Whenever I rest …
Like a vagabond bird
At the end of the night  …

What shall I do with my wings now?
After I promised I would fly with you
And they grow larger than clouds.
Now I know the meaning of your departure,
Now I know the depth of tragedy:
There is no difference between death and absence.


THE DESTINY OF LOVE
We are connected by
The threads of destiny.
They defy the tempest of time,
They have never ceased
And never faded away …
I finally grasp the secret
That binds us together:
One of us is a butterfly,
The other one is a light.
Neither a lamp has been broken
Nor a wing burnt …

I finally grasp the secret
That binds us together:
One of us is a morning.
The other one is an evening.
Between us there are:
Distances traveled,
Migratory birds …

I finally grasp the secret
That binds us together:
Dreams,
Childhood,
Phantoms knocking on
Our door with unknown faces.
Neither of us knows
How our future will be
Nor how has our past arrived.
All we remember is

The burning rhythm …
The bleeding of longing …
What can we do my friend?
This is the destiny of Love.


THREAD OF SMOKE
I know now what holds us:
A thread of smoke
When I give you my hand
It turns into fire,
Then I burn.

I know now what holds us:
A thread of water,
When you give me your hand
It turns into sea,
Then you drown

I know now what there is between us:
A thread of air
When we give our hands,
It turns into wind
Then we vanish.

 

MY BLEEDING SOUL
This morning
I saw my soul bleeding
Over the river
Which became white.
Then I knew
How things lose their luster.

This morning
I saw the city running,

The river following,

Flowing,
Crying,
- Burning.
The city did not see the river,

Nor hear weeping.
Thus I knew
That everything loves
- Yet separates …

This morning
I felt the hand of the sky
Holding mine.
No … it's not you
There is someone else I love.



LACED MEMORY

My memory is no longer a virgin
It has thousands of lovers.
It has been divorced several times
And several times widowed,
Neither children nor family ask about it.

It receives so many visitors
Without any passion.
It receives them naked
Except from laced sorrows.

It pours into tea-cups,
Sheds fire into clothes,
Draws the swords of the pipes,
Dances the dance of the death,
- Then it goes out …